It’s a comment we hear nearly every day – “How did we manage without computers?”
It occurred to me this morning just how many of the things we now take for granted – and even can’t do without – weren’t even invented just a short time ago (and the more things I think of, the further back in time I’m forced to go).
But I have to start somewhere, so how about the industrial revolution, something that radically changed no end of things for everyone. Suddenly clothes could be mass produced, with the advent of the spinning jenny and weaving machines, the world became a much smaller place because of trains and then motor cars and electricity was under the power of people and became our servant. Imagine the cost of, say, a simple dress if it had to be spun and woven by hand, made without sewing machines and then had to be delivered to you, perhaps a hundred miles away, by horse and cart!
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I guess the great revolution for ordinary people came with the electricity already mentioned above. Ladies, who had had to heat an iron over a gas stove, could suddenly switch one on! People more than 100 meters away could be spoken to, any time you liked, with the wonderful new telephone (and look what you can do with one of those today!). Electricity provided power for action, heat for comfort, and light. It was the new ‘god’ for many, making life easier, cleaner and cheaper; it was also to be the key to many future developments, not yet envisaged.
Because of the necessity created by cars, the dirt roads of old had to be upgraded and sealed, which also meant quicker, easier transport not only for people, but for goods as well. In fact, everything started to move faster, not only physically but abstractly as well, with each new idea giving birth to a dozen others. Even in ordinary households, that electric iron led on to the electric kettle, the electric fire and the electric oven, all basically using a similar heating element to the iron. I’m not certain about the actual chronological order of these inventions but you get the point, I’m sure!
Then at an ever increasing rate, the world discovered electric motors, electric vacuum cleaners, electric frying pans and many other devices, all of which we’d find it hard to do without these days.
But this is by no means the end of the story – in fact many clever people say that what we now have is more of a beginning than an end. Remember the first electric wrist watches? Nearly all operating with a light emitting diode display, (LED), that sucked a battery dry in about a week? Thank goodness someone soon discovered the much more economical liquid crystal display, (LCD), otherwise we would undoubtedly still be using clockwork watches! Of course, these new watches, whatever their means of viewing, were using the next enormous leaps forward, electronics and digitisation, the two wonders we are still finding out about to this day. Without these two there would be no cell-phones, no iPads, no PC’s, no laptops, no modern televisions, no cars possessing all that wonderful gadgetry we all love so much and no rockets to the moon and beyond! All stuff most of us wouldn’t want to be without, or perhaps couldn’t even manage without now!
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The worrying thing is that all these wonderful innovations have made us entirely dependent on them. Our skills are limited to operating the machines that do the work for us, whereas our ancestors did the work themselves. Who amongst us, apart from a farmer, would know how to slaughter, skin, joint and cook a cow these days, or how to sheer a sheep, clean and spin its wool, weave it into cloth and make clothes? Who could grow wheat, grind it and make bread, and would you know where to get the yeast to make the bread rise?
As with most things in the world, there is usually a downside, I believe it is important that we should take advantage of all that the wonders of science offer, but we should still look over our shoulders occasionally, not to let the old ways slip away completely. You never know when we might one day need them!
What can’t you live without? What invention has changed your life now from when you were a child? Tell us in the comments below…
To see more articles by Brian Lee, click here.